Every month I will highlight a Black artist, form of entertainment, business, or social media personality to help to spread awareness of Black Excellence. Be sure to check here on the 2nd of every month!
In a world that oppresses people of color, especially Black people, at every turn it is important that people battle that oppression however they can. We need people fighting in the streets, we need people supporting those damaged by ALL forms of oppression, we need people informing the masses, we need people raising the next generation of activists. This month's spotlight, Calandra Davis, does all of those things and more. Calandra also uses her platform, her educational background, and her community presence to advocate for a movement more inclusive and supportive of groups often pushed to the sidelines, like Black women, single parents, and working class people. Check out my conversation with Calandra below and see how she believes we all have a duty to support each other in our fight for freedom.
Marcus Haynes: Hey Calandra!
Calandra Davis: Hello. (laughs)
MH: It's been a while since we talked. What have you been up to?
CD: It has been a while! Since Alcorn* I think! I don't know where to start. So after Alcorn I moved to Little Rock and got my MA in Public Service* focusing in Social Justice. I am currently working as the program director for a Domestic Violence shelter called Women and Children First. I do community engagement and this little thing called motherhood.
MH: Wow. That's a lot. It seems like you've done so much in a short time.
CD: (laughs) My thoughts have changed so much from Alcorn. I just had to follow them and I changed as I worked at them.
So one of the reasons why I wanted to do this interview was because of your activism. You've taught me so much.
Okay. (laughs) It's a little weird to hear that from a peer. Especially from someone who I think does great work.
Oh thank you. (laughs) I'm just on here talking about stuff. But I'm glad to hear that though. A lot of times we don't realize how powerful we can be when we build community and uplift each other like that. We can make a change just by uplifting each other.
Definitely. I remember my first time in grad school; I had heard so many horror stories and my own experiences that made me feel small. I still have those moments sometimes, when I question myself and ask, "Am I well versed/articulate enough?" But sometimes that questioning is good. It forces me to keep on my toes and check my information. It still helps to know that it is affecting people positively. I have people who inbox me all the time to ask can they write about me or can I answer something for them.
Like I did! (laughs) But no, I think you're absolutely right. Especially because we become these people that folks ask questions to we have a duty to give correct information.
You have to give people the truth.
Right. And for a lot of people we are the only thing they will see that talks about this kind of stuff. We are that educator for some people, and that's what we see with a lot of what people call "hashtag activism". What do you think of that idea?
I actually just saw a status about that. "I'm tired of social media activists." I don't agree with people saying that's a bad thing. Social media plays a large role in Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name and the other movements and we can't ignore that. It is ableist and really exclusive to dismiss disabled, low income, etc. people who cannot be on the front lines by saying that their activism is not the right type. These people are important. What they do and say is important. The system, and people, will make you question if you are doing enough, and we have to realize that even the small victories are enough. Just getting up and surviving is enough, and when social media activists embrace that and talk daily about the things around them they are doing enough. Results show that speaking out is always enough.
I know I am very grateful for people like you using social media activism as a platform. Why do you think people today are more prone to using their social media to speak up?
I personally go on to social media for updates and news from my friends and other people around me. So I say why not let it be another platform for social justice? This is part of my life: it is in my parenting, it is my career, and it is my education, so a lot of my habits are social justice themed. As they say in church, "What's in you is gonna come out". By seeing a part of me on my social media I hope that other people will start to see themselves and what they can do.
What do you think is the difference between learning history and about social justice through the educational system vs. learning it via Twitter?
When I started to see my educational privilege** I realized that it often affects my viewpoint. You can easily get caught up in that and forget about the people who don't have that privilege. Plus, you can learn things outside the classroom. Twitter, not grad school, taught me about privilege. I hope that I am educating others in the same way. I am growing and learning on how to help others see their privilege and prejudice, and I hope that my social media does that.
I'm actually glad that you brought up educating people on privilege. I think there's so much educating people, particularly men, on their privilege going on through social media that we have to take notice. Why do you think that social media has become the platform for things like #SayHerName*** to become popular?
Social media is an intracommunal conversation. We talk about issues that affect our community, including different forms of oppression. We learn all the time about how Black me are oppressed, how the world is out to get them and yes it's true. We know that. But as a woman I see oppression as racism and patriarchal. Statistics do show that one of the leading causes of death in Black women is at the hands of Black men through things like domestic violence. I am a domestic violence survivor and I remember my ex having an episode that ended with him in jail. People blamed me. They asked me questions like, "Did you know about this? Why is he in jail?" I lost a sense of community from that; it was in that moment that I realized that I was Black and a woman. I realized that I had more loyalty to the Black community than I did to myself, that I was more worried about putting another Black man in the system than I was about my and my daughter's safety. Something had to change. I do and will always love the Black community, but something about that has to change in our community.
Thank you for sharing. I agree so much that something has to change. Why do you think that change is starting to happen now with so many Black women? Why do you think so many Black women are trying to change the community's conversation at this moment?
(pauses) That's a good question. I don't know why Black women are stepping forward now, but I do know that social media offers a strong sense of community. I wasn't willing to share my story because I'm a "strong Black woman with degrees****", but seeing other prominent Black women sharing their stories helped to show me that I have a community and support system all over the world. It gave me the strength that made me comfortable enough to share my story.
It is terrible that you cannot find that in the current Black community, hopefully as people continue to speak out and change perceptions that will change.
We can only hope and work towards it.
True, and as we work towards that and as you raise a little Black girl yourself I'm sure that's something you think of: the future. What do you hope she learns from you and from the work that you do?
Honestly, I hope that by the time Zorah is 16 that she doesn't have to deal with this. That's what I hope. But I know that realistically it probably won't happen. I hope at the very foundation that she learns how to navigate these systems and still find joy and a love of life through it all. I know that the moment I became "conscious" I just started asking all these questions and just becoming depressed. It was near the end of our time at Alcorn and I was so sad because I felt so hopeless and helpless. It's easy to feel like things are like that, even now. You can work to get private prisons shut down and still wonder are you doing enough; still think "Well what about sexual assault? What about wage equality?". I don't want Zorah to be blind to what goes on around her, but I want her to know what's happening and still be able to live. I also want her to know that people are fighting. Know that people are fighting with her, were fighting before her, and will be fighting after her. I want her to know that she is not alone and we are not going to stop. You will ALWAYS have someone committed to her liberation, and that someone is not just Mommy.
I love how you take time to introduce Zorah to activism and Black culture at a young age. I know I was worried that you would give birth to her at a protest.
Why is it so important to you for her to expose her to the world you work in?
Growing up that wasn't in my household. We were a big Christian family, so all we focused on was how God judged us all and how we are all his children. I want something different for Zorah. I want her to not be afraid to see yourself as a Black girl. I want her to know that you are more, but also know that your Black girlhood is a part of you. I want Zorah to know that she has a culture, something that belongs solely to her.
It has to be difficult to raise your daughter and do the type of work that you do at the same time. How are you able to balance that?
I am a part of this group, Caregivers for Justice, that is a group of parents, people who care for the elderly, and just overall caregivers designed to support those of us involved in social justice. A lot of spaces are either no children allowed or are a children's space with no social justice elements, so a group like that is very helpful to bridge that gap. I'm grateful for that group because it has helped me support my daughter and do my work with no worries.
What about other parents, ones without access to a group like Caregivers for Justice. Should they be doing all that they can to educate their children as well?
I think they should. When you leave children out of the movement, or parents for that matter, where does that leave the next generation? Telling a child that justice must be served isn't taking their innocence away; it's teaching them about what freedom looks like. We need to change the language surrounding that. We need to be more inclusive in our organizations of parents and children, especially children. Children are so often excluded because they are seen as products of their parents and not their own person, and honestly we have to start viewing them as individuals and on an individual basis. That is the only way we can prepare them for the future.
What can we do to help the parents of those children? How can we support them and the children themselves?
The first thing I would say is for them to know that they are doing enough already. Tell them that taking care of your family is enough. Know that raising a free child, especially a free Black child, is doing the work. You are at the top of the list of doing the work, but if you wanna do more, just look around and try to get involved. Find out what's going on in your community and find where you can participate. For organizers I would say that they need to make sure that they are being inclusive. Be conscious of people with families, people who are low income, etc. Do things like provide food for them. When you are having a meeting from like five to seven you are cutting into dinnertime, and many people are unable to provide for their families because of that. If you don't have kids, offer help to those with children. If you are at a meeting and you see a mother constantly stepping outside of the space to care for her child offer her your support. Ask if you can take the child out this time, take notes for her while she's gone. Offer help however you can. Be that community that we all need.
Can you name some values you want to pass on to your daughter and others? What do you want to leave behind through your work?
My main values are my list of things to live by. 1) Remember that this social justice life is a daily practice. It is a lifetime commitment. Community activism and social justice isn't just a job, it is a life style. 2) Know that liberation is possible. This is important. I've had people tell me "Calandra, you're doing impossible work" People say that "This is how it is" and accept things as they are because "The Bible says..." but we can achieve it. I'm gonna work, my daughter's gonna work, and bit by bit we will get to liberation. 3) We must practice self-care and celebrate the small victories. Because this is a lifestyle we have to take the time to celebrate even the smallest things. Like I saw a homeless man get an ID one day and it made me so happy, because with that ID he gained so many opportunities he didn't have without it. When you see men being shot or women being abused every day, you have to celebrate everything you can.
Do you have any last words for the readers?
No profound statements really, I'm just honored and I hope that people will get something from this. I believe in the power of storytelling and I hope those who see my life are encouraged. I'm just out here trying to save the world and get others to join in the fight and get on board.
* = Calandra and I were classmates at Alcorn (starting in 2008, graduating in 2012). She majored in Chemistry while there, and moved to the Clinton School of Public Service to get the Masters degree she discussed.
** = There are many different types of privilege. White privilege is of course the most well known and the highest ranking, but many groups and types of people have different levels of privilege that allow them different opportunities and freedoms, like male privilege where men don't have to worry about street harassment or having to live up to the same type of beauty standards that women do or straight privilege where you don't have to be afraid to show too much affection in public and your relationships are all over the media. When Calandra talks about educational privilege she talks about the ability to navigate different spaces because you have the degrees and the educational background to make people feel like you are intellectual.
*** = #SayHerName is a movement started by and for Black women. It is designed to uplift the women who mainstream movements (sometimes even #BlackLivesMatter) have forgotten and ensure that they are not ignored or pushed to the margins, in life or death.
**** = A subset of the "strong Black woman" trope, to be a strong Black woman with degrees means that not only are you strong enough to endure all the pain that the world throws at you, but you are also smart enough to recognize it and do what it takes to use your experiences to your advantage.